By Chimwemwe Mwanza
To lift or not to? It’s a question that’s captivated the political landscape since the change of the presidential guard and civil society, political pundits including lawyers alike have been discussing this matter ad infinitum.
For starters, Zambia like many democracies’ world oversubscribes to the principle that every citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty or otherwise by a court of law. It’s on record that there is currently no case or investigation against former President Edgar Lungu – at least in the public domain for crimes he may have committed during his Presidency. What then is motivating calls for his immunity to be lifted? It’s a difficult ask and off course, answers may vary depending on one’s political affiliation.
Is it even necessary that parliament should consider taking this route should Lungu be found wanting? “We will cross the bridge when we get there,” remarked President Hakainde Hichilema (HH) when asked about this niggling matter during his recent press briefing. This response is a remarkable departure from the conciliatory speech he gave soon after he was declared winner of the 2021 Presidential elections.
Even though the then President-elect extended a gesture of goodwill to the former President, he didn’t directly broach the issue of Lungu’s, immunity. However, the undertones in his remarks somewhat gave a vague assurance that Lungu will be left in peace to enjoy his retirement. This seems unlikely.
Fast forward: While President Hichilema deftly dodged the simplest question at the briefing, he in the process gave the nation a glimpse into his mindset regarding Lungu’s future. “Now that I have the privilege of knowing what I know, I would like to warn you Zambians to be very careful of the people you elect as leaders,” Granted that HH now has the intelligence apparatus in his corner, the inference to this statement is that there might be a few but serious questions that Lungu requires to answer hence HH couldn’t be definitive on safeguarding Lungu’s immunity.
What does the future hold for Lungu then? Only time will tell, for now he remains on HH’s leash. Interestingly, Sesheke UPND Member of Parliament, Romeo Kangombe’s recent vow to table a parliamentary motion to lift Lungu’s immunity adds a different twist to this matter altogether. While his pronouncement smacks of misplaced bravado – because only the President can do that, Kangombe let slip what could be loud whispers doing the rounds in his party regarding the former President’s immunity. With or without evidence of wrongdoing, it seems that the UPND’s desire to force the former President to account for his reign is a foregone conclusion and all that this process is waiting to play out is some fuel and a matchstick.
Blame it on deeply flawed precedence set by former President Levy Mwanawasa (MHSRIP), there is almost an ingrained expectation in Zambia’s political psyche requiring that every immediate past president be dragged before courts to account for their reign. This is a dangerous vicious cycle and parliament ought to somehow put a stop to this madness and safeguard the office of the immediate past President. For clarity, this in no way implies that rogues be shielded from accountability but strengthening legislative oversight on the office of the sitting President is simply one of the many proposals for consideration.
HH’s delicate balancing act
How times have changed. Who could have predicted that Lungu’s future will someday be determined by a person that he once locked up on a trumped-up treason charge; here is a true-life lesson unfolding right before the country? While he has tried to conceal his anger regarding his incarceration – this despite his repeated calls to let the sleeping dogs lie, HH is still bitter about this experience.
The fact that HH kept whistling at sleeping beasts whilst asking others to stop as exemplified in the subtle reminder of the 15 times that he was thrown in jail, underscores this point. Visibly irritated, he yet again reminded the audience gathered at his presser. “As if this was not enough, they threatened to take me back to prison after elections.” While not every politician is as forgiving as Nelson Mandela, the President can’t have it both ways; he should either forgive and move on or at worst launch an open political warfare against his political opponents.
It’s in fact worrying that he chose to use the presser to send a chilling warning to the PF asking its leadership and its members to behave.
Question is, what did the PF do wrong to warrant his threat? This too, he couldn’t elaborate. This begs yet another question? Is it inimical for a defeated political party to regroup? So goes a Ngoni axiom, ndale zibala mkangano – loosely translated as politics do give birth to contestation. Unless the PF is engaged in subversions only known to the President and the intelligence community, it’s fair to suggest that the PF’s criticism of the UPND government has thus far been within prescripts of the constitution.
Fight against corruption
Whispers in corridors of power suggest that several former cabinet ministers are under investigations for various offences committed during PF’s tenure in office. Now, this poses a challenge to the new government’s fight against graft.
Notwithstanding the fact that the PF and its former leaders must account for wrongdoing, UPND should guard against perpetuating the notion that it’s using state institutions and its newly acquired position of strength to decimate the opposition. And how HH manages to navigate this challenge will shape his Presidency. While true that the PF leadership stepped on so many toes, it’s important to draw a distinction between personal differences among warring politicians and crimes politicians may have committed against the state.
While the new dawn which HH espouses is anchored in a departure from the past, the wanton dismissals from government of individuals – simply for having worn PF regalia ages back does not bode well for reconciliation. It’s indisputable that that the culture at the time called for subserviency to rulers of the day and cadreism was an easy ladder to career development.
As such, retribution and vindictiveness will not move the country forward – Zambia does not require a politically toxic environment but positive investor sentiment that will project the country as the perfect destination for Foreign Direct Investment in the region.
The President needs to reign in on this vindictive vice otherwise the country risks sliding back into the much-hated cadre mentality. This includes how he will manage Lungu’s immunity poser.
About the author: He is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. The only thing he supports is Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool. What a gem of a goal from Mo Salah over the weekend, he had no right gliding past Man City defenders in that manner. For feedback, contact: [email protected]